Frankly … social Watching the Log Flume

Maximilian Buddenbohm observes how people amuse themselves at an amusement park and share a snack on the grass.

By Maximilian Buddenbohm

Frontal view of the vehicle of a log flume in which several people are sitting; water splashes very strongly on both sides The passengers screech and squeal as the log shoots down the long slide … and – smack! – into the pool of water at the bottom with a great big splash. | Photo (detail): David Ebener; © picture alliance/dpa
I'm at a theme park, people-watching: I mean, what else am I to do here? The rides don’t grab me anymore. That sort of thing is for my kids, who spend the whole time going from one ride to the next. They’re big boys now and pretty independent, they don’t need me chaperoning them around all day. They don't get lost and don't usually engage in risky behaviour, so all they really need me for is to pay for the fun. They’re happy with the arrangement and so am I.

Sharing adventures with family and friends

It's a warm summer's day, as genial as can be: not too hot, a little cloudy, ideal weather for a day at a theme park. Around me are groups of nuclear families rushing from one attraction to the next, from the carousel to the roller coaster, from the giant slide to the soft ice cream stand. After which they go back around and start again: just about everyone here is in perpetual motion. I, on the other hand, sit down on a bench with my notebook as throngs of fun-seekers revolve around me – and that’s a good thing: I can jot down what I observe and that’ll be my column about contemporary society – at least the slice of society presented to me today.
Right in front of me is the log flume. The “logs” are pulled up a rollercoaster-like construction… and then slide down at high speed into a pool of water. Each log has three or four seats in single file – more on that score in a minute. Families, or small groups of friends, usually share a log, but mutual strangers hardly ever do. After all, even little adventures are best shared with one’s familiars. This is an old rule of thumb, in life as in adventure movies.

Who gets splashed most?

Over and over again, I watch as the logs are tugged at an agonizingly slow pace up to the very top of the chute, then that exciting moment as the nose of each log levels off and then tilts down for the final drop. What happens next is always the same: the passengers screech and squeal, some flinging up their arms, as the log shoots down the long slide… and – smack! – into the pool of water at the bottom with a great big splash. The riders get wet. Some get thoroughly drenched, even wetter than on most log flumes, or so it seems to me. Laughing and still in their logs, they turn round to see whether the others got splashed too. They compare who’s wetter, showing off their soaked trousers and T-shirts: “Look! Look!” Then they walk or run back to the start for another ride, though sitting in a different order seeing as you might not get as wet in every seat. Who gets more drenched? Which seat gets the biggest splash? So they have to try out the other seats to find out. Especially the kids insist on experimenting and ultimately, after two or three rides, they’re all equally drenched through and through.
Human beings like to experience things together – and the same way. Can this be deduced from the log flume? I keep watching till I’m sure, at least for today: Yes, that’s how it is. Humans like to share experiences.


There’s a patch of grass in front of the log flume ride where families and groups of friends sit down for a break. They unpack their provisions, pass bottles around, and consume massive quantities of sugar – there’s no mistaking that: sit here for a while by this patch of grass and you’ll see masses of biscuits and chocolate and candy of all kinds changing hands and going down gullets. Watch closely and you’ll also notice efforts to divvy up the booty fairly: counting and calculating, estimating who’s had how much of what. It’s mostly adults engaged in this painstaking exercise. But some of the kids, even the little ones, join in, watching closely and piping up every now and then, “Hey! You can't have two of these! It’s just one each!” So they make sure everyone gets their fair share, even the ones who aren't paying the least bit of attention: “Here, have some, this is for you!” They even set some aside for later for those who don't want any now. Amongst these little clumps of picnickers merrily munching away around me, everyone gets their fair share. It’s clearly not a case of the biggest or strongest getting the lion’s share.

Fair and square

When it comes to the more wholesome fare, however, such as vegetable sticks and cheese cubes, it doesn't really matter who gets how much. It might even be a welcome eventuality for someone to eat up almost all of it, e.g. a hungry paterfamilias, then at least the stuff is gone and no longer lying around on the picnic blanket as an annoying reminder to eat more nutritiously. But when it comes to the coveted sweet treats, people share, fair and square.
And if you observe this phenomenon for two or three hours at a stretch, how people actually take pains to share and even out the takings again and again and evidently routinely, how they even have fun sharing – then your mind may briefly come back to the old question of how, in spite of this manifest predisposition, we have actually managed to develop such an unbelievably unfair society. What on earth happened?
I figured I’d share this conundrum with you here, because it’s a question we should probably be asking ourselves more often.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Maximilian Buddenbohm, Aya Jaff, Dominic Otiang’a and Margarita Tsomou. In “Frankly ... social”, Maximilian Buddenbohm reports on the big picture – society as a whole – and on its smallest units: family, friendships, relationships.